I realise that many things have been blamed on the European Union, but the demographics and the population outcome of the UK cannot be blamed on it. What one can say about the present situation, however, is that we can predict that it will not get any better in the short or medium term. I think that Skills for Care has calculated that a quarter of the health and social care workforce are aged 55 and over. They will be due to retire sometime in the next 10 years, which will mean another 320,000 vacancies that need to be filled.
Let us not kid ourselves: we are facing a looming crisis. Equally, it is a crisis of the UK Government’s making, because they chose to go down this road of a hard Brexit. They want to take us out of the single market and the customs union; they chose to end the freedom of movement that has done so much to enhance the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the UK over the past 40 years; and they did so knowing the consequences that such actions would have.
I therefore look forward to the Minister explaining exactly why the Government allowed that to happen and what their long-term plan is to fill those hundreds of thousands of vacancies facing health and social care in the coming years. If that plan includes yesterday’s launch by NHS England of the campaign to encourage GPs to come out of retirement, then heaven help us.
The primary purpose of this debate is to focus on the enormous challenges that will face our biggest asset, the people, whether they work in or rely on the sector, but as important as recruitment, retention and the level of care we provide is the issue of medicines and access to research. As I said, I have been inundated with representations from charities and third sector organisations, which are all extremely worried about the future of medical research and the ability to source vital drugs and treatment, particularly if we have a chaotic crashing out of the European Union. Who would have believed that in 2019 we would have a UK Government advising people to stockpile medicines? Those medicines might be life-saving, but we all took it for granted that they would be there if and when necessary. Now people are stockpiling, in 2019—it beggars belief.